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Classics 101: An Introduction to Classic Cars
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Maintaining Cars and Fellowship

One of the maxims of the collector car hobby goes, "We don't really own these cars; we're just taking care of them for the next guy." I suppose one could add, "and some guys do a better job of taking care of them than others."

I attended the funeral of one of those guys who took real good care of all of the cars with which he came in contact, whether he owned them or "merely" assisted in their restoration. Even before his funeral, I'd been reflecting on the number of automobile collectors and historians who have left us--or are close to doing so. Their numbers include both people I knew well or knew from a distance. In either case, their loss diminished our hobby.

The reality is, this is a graying hobby. Yes, there are many young men and women coming into the hobby, but perhaps not quite fast enough to replace all of the older members. I once told my fellow Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) board members that when I joined in 1964 at 19 years old, I was one of the youngest members and that today I still am! They laughed. While that may not be completely true, they got the point.

What attracted me to the hobby many years ago was being able to see the great Classic automobiles up close and personal; actually seeing vintage automobiles that I'd only seen in books and magazines was pretty exciting stuff!

The next dimension of the hobby was meeting the owners of these cars. In those early years, these car owners were, with few exceptions, surprisingly knowledgeable about the automobiles they owned, be they Pierce-Arrow, Lincoln or Marmon. But then, that's why they owned these cars--they wanted to re-live and learn history through their automobiles. Getting to know fellow automotive enthusiasts is what kept the hobby interesting for me. Over the years, I learned more and more about automobiles, but I also met a lot of very interesting people. (I have to note that I always considered myself first an automotive historian and secondly a car collector. Actually, I couldn't possibly own all of the automobiles that have interested me over the years!)

The gentleman whose funeral I attended last week represented everything I consider good about the hobby. He was a man who enjoyed working on his cars. If a car had to be restored, he did it correctly--but didn't overdo it. He was proud of his CCCA and AACA awards, but after receiving those awards he drove his cars, sometimes for considerable distances. Not only was he a talented restorer, he was well read; whether or not he knew it, he was a historian. And, most significantly, he gladly shared what he knew with anyone who contacted him for information.

Collectors who shared his interest in his favorite marque could be assured they would receive an answer to their question--but also, if they were seeking a particular part, they often discovered that he had it or knew where to find it. And when he did sell a part, it was priced fairly. Unlike so many other "hobbyists," his pricing more often reflected a desire to help a person get a car back on the road than to extract the last dollar from a needy collector.

Another car collector/restorer friend of mine functions similarly. When I asked him the price of a piston for one of my Classics, he replied it would "be the same price as the last one" he sent me--nothing. "I have plenty of them."

So, while cars bring us into this hobby, it's the people who truly keep it alive and energized. Many of the folks I met in my early years of membership in the CCCA are gone. While their cars have been passed along to new owners, whether in their family or to other hobbyists, their real legacy is the friendship and information they shared with others.

I maintain that if all collector car enthusiasts spent more time getting to know their fellow enthusiasts and less time chasing a $25 award, the hobby would be better served--and everyone's lives more enriched. Don't get me wrong, judging has its place. There's a lot of satisfaction to be gained from knowing that a collector car has been correctly maintained or restored to its original condition. And, many of those restorations are true labors of love, with no likelihood of financial gain.

A few years ago, I invited Bill Warner, founder of the Amelia Island Concours, to join us as a car exhibitor and judge at a concours I direct, the Glenmoor Gathering. Bill replied that he'd be glad to join us, but didn't want his car judged. "Forget the awards," he said. "I'm just coming for the beer."

I'd never thought of it quite that way, but I often find myself reflecting on Bill's comment. Sometimes, I can't think of anything more enjoyable than sitting on a running board and sharing a beer–and a few stories–with a fellow enthusiast.

This article originally appeared in the August, 2008 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.